Cookies help us deliver our Services. By using our Services, you agree to our use of cookies. Learn More.

Actors You Never Realized Were In Hallmark Movies

Since its launch in 2001, the Hallmark Channel (HC) and its sister network, Hallmark Movies & Mysteries (HMM), have produced a dizzying array of original movies and television series. The Hallmark Channel produces modestly budgeted features with a mix of name actors and unknown or regional players (many from Canada, where most HC movies are filmed).

HC employs a list of familiar faces including Lacey Chabert, Danica McKellar, Alicia Witt, and Holly Robinson Peete, all of whom have appeared in a number of their productions. They also dip frequently into the daytime soap world for its talent, drawing on the likes of Allison Sweeney and Cameron Mathison, among others, or on TV and film veterans like Marilu Henner or Matt Frewer for supporting turns. But there have also been a number of actors, both long-established names and up-and-comers who vaulted to greater stardom, who have logged time in a Hallmark film. Spotting these performers is often half the fun of watching an HC production. We've compiled here a list of actors you never realized were in a Hallmark movie.

James Caan wore the black hat in JL Ranch

The late James Caan kept exceptionally busy in the last decade of his life, though largely in independent features and on television series like "Back in the Game" and "Las Vegas." In a 2016 interview with the New York Post, the Oscar, Golden Globe, and Emmy nominee detailed, in typically colorful terms, his dislike of episodic programming, but seemed okay with TV features like "JL Ranch" (which also aired as "JL Family Ranch").

Part of its appeal appeared to be an opportunity to act in a Western — Caan rode horses and roped cattle in rodeos for years, earning himself the nickname "the Jewish Cowboy" — though the material also seemed to hold his interest. "Right now I'm only working when there's something that comes along where I feel I can take a sense of pride," he said.

Caan clearly enjoyed his turn as soft-spoken but hard-edged developer Tap Peterson, who vies for ownership of longtime rival Jon Voight's ranch in "JL Ranch," enough to reprise the role in the 2020 sequel, "JL Family Ranch 2." The follow-up adds more layers to the feud by introducing Caan's long-lost son (Judson Mills), whose appearance upends the marriage plans of Voight's daughter — and his former flame (Teri Polo, another Hallmark movie mainstay).

Andie MacDowell looked At Home in Mitford

The 2017 TV feature "At Home in Mitford" was the second of three projects that Golden Globe winner Andie MacDowell completed for the Hallmark Channel between 2013 and 2018. Like 2013's "Cedar Cove" and 2018's "The Beach House," "Mitford" was also drawn from a novel, the first of 14 faith-based stories by American writer Jan Karon, all set in the fictional North Carolina town of Mitford and anchored around its local pastor, Tim Kavanaugh. 

Actor Cameron Mathison plays Tim in "Mitford," but the film is largely focused on MacDowell's Cynthia, an author who vacationed in the town as a child and returns to contend with a serious case of writer's block. Initially, both are resistant to romance, having suffered heartbreak in their past. Thankfully, there's a young orphan on hand to help them open their hearts.

MacDowell and Mathison are a likable couple and navigate the sudsy and sweet elements of the story with ease. Though this effort was the end of the line for their on-screen adventures, Father Tim and Cynthia were eventually married in Karon's books.

That's a very young Joey King in Elevator Girl

While "Elevator Girl" is just the Hallmark Channel's umpteenth take on the Cinderella story, the 2010 romantic comedy by Emmy-winning cinematographer-turned-director Bradford May does have a few distinguishing elements. It has an attractive lead couple in Lacey Chabert and Ryan Merriman as a waitress and lawyer, respectively, who have a meet-cute in a stuck elevator, and a bona fide "Mean Girls" reunion, thanks to the presence of Jonathan Bennett, who plays Lacey's BFF. Oh, and "Three's Company" vet Priscilla Barnes also turns up as Merriman's nosey co-worker.

But the real surprise in "Elevator Girl" is the presence of a pre-teen Joey King as the daughter of Libby's friend (Hedy Burgess). It's a minor role and requires the Emmy and Golden Globe nominee to do little more than look cute (a sparkly princess dress helps), but she pulls it off effortlessly. King was already a veteran performer at this point, having logged appearances in "Quarantine" and "Reign Over Me," as well as playing featured roles on "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation" and "Ghost Whisperer."

A Carol Christmas was William Shatner's first trek to the Hallmark Channel

Though apparently intended as a broad comedy, the 2003 Hallmark Channel holiday feature "A Carol Christmas" boasts one of the network's most unusual lineups to date. Not only does it feature Hallmark vet Tori Spelling as an updated take on Charles Dickens' Ebenezer Scrooge of "A Christmas Carol" fame, but it partners her with a pop culture trifecta of oddball ghosts: Gary Coleman as the Ghost of Christmas Past, a silent James Cromwell as the Ghost of Christmas Future, and none other than William Shatner as a platitude-spouting talk show host who also happens to be the Ghost of Christmas Present.

Shatner has made a second career out of playing blowhards with an arsenal of catchphrases — he earned two Emmy Awards and a Golden Globe as the self-impressed lawyer Denny Crane on "Boston Legal — and his TV shrink, Dr. Bob, is cut from the same cloth as his other performances. Getting laughs here is an easy layup for Shatner, but he doesn't phone in his performance. Rather, he appears to enjoy the chance to play a fairly silly character. "Carol Christmas" wasn't Shatner's only project for Hallmark: he returned 12 years later to play a similar role in "Just in Time for Christmas." For this 2015 feature, he's a carriage driver with a jaw-droppingly fake beard and a magical time-traveling rig.

Roger Moore made a post-007 appearance in A Princess for Christmas

After leaving the James Bond franchise in 1985, Sir Roger Moore dabbled in occasional features and television series, the majority of which were lighthearted comedies ("Spice World") and good-natured nods to his screen spy career, like his vocal cameo in 1997's "The Saint." Moore continued to make occasional post-Bond screen appearances prior to his death in 2017, the most substantial of which was the 2011 Hallmark Channel feature "A Princess for Christmas."

Moore plays Edward, an English royal and long-estranged grandfather to adorable Milo and Maddie. He invites the pair and their aunt (Katie McGrath), who also serves as their guardian after the death of their parents, to his castle for Christmas. The clash between the haves and have-nots results in a steady stream of gentle humor, teary emotion and, of course, a holiday romance between McGrath and Moore's other son, played by Sam Heughan.

Moore manages to inject some of his signature dry humor into his role. More importantly, his presence lends both movie star glamour and Old World charm to a modest TV effort, and elevates it a notch or two above Hallmark's huge catalog of Christmas shows.

Sam Heughan showed his heartthrob potential in A Princess for Christmas

Shortly before landing his breakout role as Jamie Fraser on "Outlander," Scottish actor Sam Heughan joined the Hallmark Channel's long line of romantic royalty in the 2011 TV movie "A Princess for Christmas." Heughan played Ashton, son of Roger Moore's Duke Edward and something of a polar opposite to his (initially) icy, mournful father. He has a number of very sweet scenes with Milo, the Duke's American grandson, who struggles with the loss of his father throughout the film. Ashton is a grounding force for the boy, reminding him that his father lives on in his memory, and Heughan handles these scenes with the right mix of affection and support.

Ashton is such a stand-up guy that it's no wonder that Katie McGrath's Jules — Milo's aunt and guardian — falls for him, and their courtship gets the proper Hallmark fairy tale treatment from former pop-star-turned-director Michael Damian. It's a tribute to Heughan's talents that he invests what is essentially a stock character with so much likability.

Mariah Carey stars and directs A Christmas Melody - really

That Mariah Carey would be involved in a Christmas-themed movie is something of a given: Carey is, after all, one of the most enduring (or inescapable) voices of the holiday, thanks to her 1994 song "All I Want for Christmas is You," which is one of the best-selling physical singles in music history. Still, fans may not have envisioned the 2015 Hallmark Channel comedy "A Christmas Melody" as the proper holiday screen showcase for Mariah, or that she would make her directorial debut with the project.

Carey also stars in "A Christmas Melody" as Melissa, a small town PTA president who makes life miserable for fashion designer Kristin (Lacey Chabert), who has returned to her hometown with her daughter (Fina Strazza). Melissa was a thorn in Kristin's side when the pair was in high school, but they find a common bond in the school Christmas pageant, which (surprise!) is in desperate need of costumes. There's also a budding romance, of course, between Kristin and music teacher Danny (Brennan Elliott).

Carey handles the acting side of her assignment with an understated delivery, and her direction can be best described as competent — everything is in frame and focus and looks like standard TV-movie fare — although fans may be upset to learn that she doesn't actually sing in the film.

Megan Markle's path to princess included two Hallmark movies

Megan Markle's path from actress to the Duchess of Sussex included appearances in films like "Get Him to the Greek" and "Horrible Bosses," TV roles on series like "Suits," and starring turns in two Hallmark Channel features. Markle plays professional, independent women in both productions: In 2014's "When Sparks Fly," she's a journalist who returns to her hometown to write a story about her parents' fireworks company, and finds a solution to her romance blues in her ex-boyfriend, played by Christopher Jacot.

Two years later, Markle was top-billed in "Daters' Handbook," which follows the romantic adventures of her businesswoman character as she uses the titular self-help guide to break her streak of picking the wrong guy. The book's "rules" lead her to two dateable but very different men: fun guy Kristopher Polaha ("Wonder Woman 1984") and rocksteady (but slightly dull) Jonathan Scarfe. Markle projects a great deal of confidence in both projects — in fact, her strength often flies in the face of her characters' inability to make decisions or choose the right guy. However, that same confidence also makes both of her Hallmark efforts favorites among fans of the channel's roster of movies.

Schitt's Creek alum Emily Hampshire got Hitched for the Holidays

Though best known for edgy or offbeat material like "Schitt's Creek" or "12 Monkeys," Emily Hampshire also works in more conventional fare in her native Canada, including made-for-TV features like "Hitched for the Holidays," which aired on the Hallmark Channel in 2012. The romantic comedy pairs her with Joey Lawrence as two singles facing the unnerving prospect of visiting their parents (which includes Hallmark vet Marilu Henner) without a significant other.

It should not come as a shock to you that they strike an agreement to pose as each other's romantic partners at their respective family gatherings. And if you've seen any Hallmark Channel movie in your lifetime, it should also not be surprising that this arrangement eventually sparks real emotions.

The script, by frequent Hallmark scribe Gary Goldstein, adds a dash of bite to the humor that's usually missing from the channel's fare (e.g., Henner sets up Hampshire with a date who has a thing for feet). This gives Hampshire and fellow actors like Lisa Durupt and Kevin O'Grady an opportunity to elevate, however briefly, the material above the Hallmark baseline.

Henry Winkler lends some cool to The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

Henry Winkler's abundance of charm and talent elevates every project he's associated with, from his Emmy-winning turn on "Barry" to 2008's "The Most Wonderful Time of the Year," a sweet but slight comedy about unexpected guests and romance at the holidays. Winkler plays a retired cop who travels to the home of his favorite niece (Brooke Burns) for Christmas and brings along a new friend (Warren Christie) whom he met on his flight. Somehow, feelings bloom between Burns and her visitor — but then there's her fiancé (Woody Jeffreys) to contend with.

"The Most Wonderful Time of the Year" asks viewers to look past the fact that Christie is only in Burns' home for a couple of days before sparks begin to fly, although given that Jeffreys is such a fussy and controlling pill, it's almost understandable that she might fall for the first guy who came through the door. Logic is not the main course in this feature: The chief pleasures are the getting-to-know-you interplay between Burns and Christie, and any moment that Winkler is on the screen. His affection for Burns and his desire to see her happy is not only palpable but also infectious: You ultimately want the two to get together simply because it'll please this kind-hearted and caring man.

Comic actor Ken Marino took the romantic route for Falling in Love with the Girl Next Door

A consistently funny presence in cutting-edge comedy projects like "Party Down," "Childrens Hospital," and "Wet Hot American Summer," three-time Emmy nominee Ken Marino's most surprising credit may be "Falling in Love with the Girl Next Door," a Hallmark Movies & Mysteries feature released in 2005.

In Falling in Love with the Girl Next Door," his co-star Crystal Allen is literally the girl next door: her parents (Shelley Long and Bruce Boxleitner) have neighbored Marino's parents (Patty Duke and Patrick Duffy) for years. However, Long and Duke are also fierce rivals, which complicates the newfound romance between Marino and Allen.

Marino's easygoing nature and leading man looks help to sell the relationship; despite the conflict between their moms, he's a nice guy and makes her laugh. Marino's humor also helps to anchor viewers' attention when the script tilts into sitcom material, especially when the moms attempt to one-up each other while preparing for their kids' wedding.

SHIELD Agent Elizabeth Henstridge's 2019 assignment: Christmas at the Plaza

While wrapping up her seven-season run as part of the ensemble of Marvel heroes on "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D," Elizabeth Henstridge also found time to star in "Christmas at the Plaza," a 2019 holiday romantic comedy for the Hallmark Channel. The plaza referenced in the title is the famed Plaza Hotel in New York City, which provides a few moments of spectacular backdrop (though the majority of the movie was shot in Winnipeg) for the romance between Henstridge's archivist and decorator Ryan Paevey ("General Hospital") in his sixth appearance in a Hallmark Channel production.

Henstridge does well with a lot on her plate in "Christmas at the Plaza": she has feelings for Paevey, but also has a boyfriend who's a real jerk, and perhaps most importantly, her character isn't fueled solely by a need for romantic companionship. That certainly plays into the finale, since this is a Hallmark Channel movie, after all, but it's a pleasure to see characters with dreams and goals that reach beyond getting married under the mistletoe.

Fred Willard added laughs to Accidentally in Love

Actor Peter Facinelli (the "Twilight" franchise) co-produced and co-wrote the 2011 Hallmark comedy-drama "Accidentally in Love," which features his then-wife, actress Jennie Garth, as a down-on-her-luck mom who finds a second chance and possible romance from an unlikely source. That would be Ethan Erickson, a self-centered actor who stars as a rabbit on a kid's TV show. If that setup suggests to you that the pair will meet cute (well, Erickson hits her car) and her circumstances will melt his cold heart — she has a daughter who's losing her eyesight — then consider yourself a Hallmark scholar.

"Accidentally in Love" has an offbeat but ingratiating lead couple and a few amusing moments where Erickson loses his cool while wearing in a big bunny outfit. But the real draw for the film is the presence of the late, great Fred Willard as Erickson's agent. Willard, who died in 2020, was among that rare breed of performers who enlivened any project, and he gets a few opportunities in this picture to deliver his understated, slightly distracted, and always bemused brand of humor. There are a number of scene-stealers in the cast, including Marilu Henner and Zack Ward, but Willard walks away with every minute of his screen time.

Stephen Amell was a Mountie in When Calls the Heart

Producer Michael Landon Jr. mined author Janette Oke's book series "Love Comes Softly" for eight Hallmark Channel movies before moving on to her "Canadian West" series, which served as the basis for his long-running Hallmark series, kicking off with a 2013 TV movie starring Maggie Grace that also featured an early leading role for Canadian actor Stephen Amell of "Arrow" fame.

The TV movie pilot for "When Calls the Heart" unfolds largely in flashback, with Poppy Drayton as a turn-of-the-century schoolteacher who's leery of her new assignment in a far-off Western town. To steel herself for the challenge, she reads a journal penned by her aunt (Grace), who years ago faced an even tougher situation in a remote rural town. The downside to Grace's new gig? The occasional wolf attack. The upside is a handsome local lawman played by Amell, though that situation is also complicated due to the fact that she (wrongly) thinks he's married.

Amell, who began his tenure as Oliver Queen on "Arrow" one year prior to this movie's airdate, doesn't get to show off his physical prowess here in the same way he does in his later projects. But he projects an air of inherent decency and sincerity, which paves the way for his eventual connection with Grace.